July 12, 2013 by Willy Cardoso
This text was originally a comment I left on a post over the excellent eltjam.com – with some minor tweaks now that I reread it.
I long to see the day that the normal practice becomes one that teachers and students together take a look at a bunch of books and decide together which one, or ones, they will adopt (if any). Then do the same thing again when they reach the next level or something. (no matter how good a series is, following the same format from elementary to upper-intermediate is deadly boring)
We used to choose books with students in a school I worked with in Sao Paulo for many years. The first two or three lessons would be given using different coursebooks: the teacher and the students would go over the contents page, see if they liked the topics, the images, the feel of the material, if it would provide the right levels of challenge and motivation, etc, and try in practice a couple of pages off Unit 1.
Then the DOS would also call the students, get some feedback, ask them which coursebook they preferred and a course plan would be laid out.
Sounds great, though it was bloody difficult to manage.
The main constraint though was that since we depended on publishers’ courtesy copies to give to teachers, sometimes we couldn’t adopt a series we wanted because one or the other publisher wouldn’t give us free copies. And that is because, of course, we had a democratic way to select materials which meant we didn’t sell heaps of one single title – because, of course, we were not ‘forcing’ students to buy them.
While my account has not much to do with the original eltjam post, it does show that it is important to really see who the buyer is, who makes the decisions, and who influences them. In most situations students are certainly not the ones making the decisions. In fact, if they could really choose, I suspect the market would have a different configuration.
Moreover, on the topic eltjam raises – whether to focus on ELT brands or ELT authors – most students I’ve had in ten years could barely tell you on spot, without looking, the name of the coursebooks they were using. Most teachers I know have no idea who authored the coursebooks they use.
I know, I know! There are market researches, focus groups, author’s visits and classroom observations, they talk to teachers and students, etc, etc. – Great, but that is to design the product, isn’t it? So, in theory, there can be great, fantastic coursebooks. However, the point I raise is that of end-users’ choice.
If a course/classroom is said to be learner-centred or that it fosters (incredibly) lots of learner autonomy, etc, but its students are not allowed to participate in decisions regarding materials selection, especially coursebook selection, then IT IS NOT LEARNED-CENTRED !! : ) (NB don’t take this statement seriously)